Muscogee County School District gears up to start SPLOST projects

spauff@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 17, 2009 

  • WHAT WILL THE SALES TAX GO TOWARD?

    The 1 percent sales tax will last until the district collects $223 million and it will be used for a variety of capital projects including:

    • five new schools - a new Carver High, a middle school, two new elementary schools and a fine arts academy

    • additions to Northside High and Richards Middle

    • athletics and technology upgrades across the system

The election may be over, but for Muscogee County superintendent Susan Andrews the work is just beginning.

Voters approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for school construction in a special election on Tuesday.

The 1 percent sales tax will last five years or until the Muscogee County School District collects $223 million to complete a variety of capital projects. Projects include five new schools — a new Carver High, a middle school, two new elementary schools and a fine arts academy — additions to Northside High and Richards Middle, and athletics and technology upgrades across the system.

The tax passed with 57 percent of voters, or 8,413 people, voting yes and 6,352 voting no.

“I think it was just getting out a positive message,” Andrews said. “It was communication with people and the identification of the need.”

However, voter turnout for the special election was low — only about 15 percent of active voters, or 14,765 people, showed up to the polls. Andrews said she wasn’t bothered by the low turnout and that everyone had a chance to vote.

“People chose not to vote,” she said. “I think sometimes we take that privilege for granted.” The Board of Elections will meet Friday to certify the election results. Meanwhile, the school district is getting ready to start on SPLOST projects.

In October, the Muscogee County School Board will vote on the process for selecting bond underwriters for a $70 million bond issue to begin construction on some projects, like Carver High School.

They will also vote on the process for selecting a pool of architects.

Based on her past experience, Andrews said the fees for the bond could be less than 1.5 percent of the borrowed amount. According to the language in the SPLOST referendum, the school district has the authority to borrow up to $70 million, but the amount could be less, Andrews said.

If the district were issued a $70 million bond, the fees on that bond could be about $1.05 million.

Andrews said she has already received calls and e-mails from banks and bond underwriters interested in working with the school district, including Citibank, Columbus Bank & Trust, Edward Jones, Merchant Capital, Multi-Bank, SunTrust Bank and Regents Bank.

“We already have people calling in to be on the list,” she said.

The district will also put together a design team for the new Carver High School and work on a plan for moving students once demolition of the old school begins.

The projects have not been prioritized yet, but the additions to Northside High and Richards Middle and the new Carver High will be first on the list. Andrews said the district will spend the rest of the 2009-10 school year in planning and design stages, but residents could see some construction progress over the summer.

But Andrews’ work doesn’t just involve bricks and mortar. She also wants to work on reaching out to the 43 percent who voted against the SPLOST in the election.

“We still have a job to do to gain their trust,” she said.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469

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